Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF)

Program Information*

The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) is a $7.17 billion program funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to help schools and libraries support remote learning. Under the administration of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Emergency Connectivity Fund is a program that provides funding for devices and Internet service to eligible schools and libraries to support unserved or underserved students, school staff and library patrons while off-campus. Certain eligible services may qualify for 100% reimbursement. Laptops, tablets, and Wi-Fi hotspots are subject to funding caps.

Who is Eligible

Schools, libraries, and consortia that are eligible for the E-rate program even if they do not currently participate in E-rate.

Goal of ECF

Provide broadband access and connected devices to students, school staff, and library patrons for remote learning away from a school or library campus.

Timing

  • Current Filing Window: June 29, 2021 - August 13, 2021
  • Timeframe of expenditures: July 1, 2021 - June 30, 2022

Unmet Need

ECF funding is limited to the purchase of eligible equipment and services for students, school staff, and library patrons who would otherwise lack access to Internet connectivity and devices sufficient to engage in remote learning. This will need to be demonstrated when applying for reimbursement.

Program Resources and Application Information

Q&A with the Federal Communications Commission Staff on 6/30/2021

Can laptops be purchased with the intent to check-out long-term/permanently (within the 3-year lifespan) to a patron or only as part of a temporary lending program? Would the library need to re-verify the need periodically for a long-term loan in order to be compliant?

The rules don’t specify limits on the length of time a particular device can be checked out, but can’t be permanent. We are thinking about this through the lens that this is an emergency program to serve unmet educational need and in establishing use policies, we would encourage libraries to think that through.

Periodic verification regarding the ongoing need and confirmation that a device is being used for the intended purpose might be a way to show compliance. In developing audit requirements, we are going to take into account the emergency nature of the pandemic and the intended use for eligible equipment and services purchased with ECF support. Libraries will want to be thoughtful about whether it fits within the intention of the program and how it would be able to demonstrate the ongoing way in which need and intended purpose is being documented.

What would a public library need to do if a patron moves and does not return an ECF-funded wirelessly connected device?

Consistent with our record-keeping requirements, schools and libraries have to keep track of and document devices and other equipment that they distribute and that would include documenting information about missing, lost, or damaged equipment.

What is the timeline for the FCC considering the request to modify the document retention policy for libraries? We have heard repeatedly from libraries that the confidentiality of patron data is a deal breaker and their library systems are not set up to capture this information.

Given what the rules require, although a library is responsible for retaining all of the information required by our rules, it doesn't have to managed or maintained in any particular format. So, for example, if a library might separately track its inventory, its circulation history and its patron data and collectively everything that is required is retained for the required amount of time, we wouldn’t require any modification to the library’s record keeping system and similarly we would leave it up to the library to determine how to format and extract that data.

We understand, in working with ALA, that this will address some of the logistical concerns that libraries have raised.

We are aware that there are a good number of states that do have privacy laws relating specifically to library patron data, and in terms of any audit or request to produce that we would respect both federal and state privacy laws to anonymize data or have that redacted in some way.

Are library staff eligible users? The Order calls out “all students, school staff, and library patrons”, but we’ve been asked about library staff. Educational purposes are defined as “in the case of libraries, integral, immediate, and proximate to the provision of library services to library patrons” – in the case of ECF does this only apply to school staff?

While library staff isn’t explicitly included in the statute, we recognize that most library staff are in fact, also library patrons and we will therefore consider staff to be library patrons for purposed of the fund as long as they meet the unmet need obligation of the program.

Can the library use ECF to set up a program where the library pays for a customer's home internet directly?

Yes. Libraries can use ECF funds to provide fixed internet broadband connections to patrons who lack access to internet during the emergency period. We do have the limitation of one location per fixed connection and that schools and libraries should document student, school staff member, or library patron served.

Regarding CIPA – if a library only applied for Telecommunications services through the E-rate Program, according to the program definitions for ECF, they would not need to filter any purchased laptops or hotspots. Is this correct?

Yes

What is the definition of commercially available service? There are some Educational Service Agencies that act as service providers in the E-rate program who provide broadband access to schools. If they provide broadband access to students at home, is this considered to be 'commercially-available?' There are service providers only provide broadband services to libraries and schools and not any other commercial customers.

The Commission has not adopted a definition of commercially available, but commercially available does not need to be publicly available. For example, bulk purchasing agreements are eligible in the ECF program and those might not be publicly available to everybody. In regards to whether or not you could still build out a network as if you have services available through an ESA, the same rules that apply to special construction would come into play and that would be you still need to show evidence that the existing fixed or mobile services options are not sufficient to meet the needs of the students, school staff, or library patrons.

You would need to define the area to be served and assessing the number of students, school staff, and library patrons that would be served. You would need to certify that you checked services with other providers and they were unable or unwilling to provide services sufficient to meet the remote learning needs of your students, school staff, or library patrons and then show that the construction can be completed and services provided within one year of the Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL).

Additional Q&A Submitted via Email

Do you need to participate in E-Rate to participate in the ECF Program?

No, you do not need to be a current (or future) E-rate participant to be eligible for the ECF Program.

If funds are used in support of a mobile library’s “Wi-Fi on wheels” equipment, is the requirement to submit user data waived?

The inventory for service not provided to an individual student, school staff member, or library patron, but used to provide service to multiple eligible users must include the following information: (a) type of service provided (i.e., DSL, cable, fiber, fixed wireless, satellite, mobile wireless); (b) broadband plan details, including: upload and download speeds and monthly data cap; and (c) the name of the school or library employee responsible for the service; (d) a description of the intended service area; and for fixed broadband service; (e) the service address; (f) the installation date of service, and (g) the last date of service (as applicable). Reference: §11-188,FCC-21-58

Can a library use ECF funds to partner with their municipality to lay municipal-owned fiber or make mesh or whitespace networks available to end users/libraries at lower cost or even no charge? Is this possible even if areas are already served by other private companies? Could the library use ECF to fund a cell tower to provide internet connectivity in an area with poor connectivity?

Providing support for such network construction in areas with commercially available options would be inconsistent with the emergency purposes of the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

One exception is where there is simply no commercially available Internet access service for purchase available to reach students, school staff, and library patrons in their homes, ECF does make an allow

Libraries must contact local service providers and include documentation establishing no service or no fixed for mobile broadband service is available at the location to be able to receive funding for any infrastructure projects. Libraries must be able to substantiate (with documentation) that there are no commercially available providers able to provide service.

If such determination is made, then the library must certify that they sought such service and providers were unable or unwilling to provide services sufficient to meet the remote learning of patrons and must also define the geographic area that will be served and assess the estimated number of students and school staff to be served. They will also need to show the construction is completed and services provided within one year of a Funding Commitment Decision Letter.

Note: Any providers wishing to participate in the ECF program, must register with SAM.gov.